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Astronomers find a tailless comet, first of its kind

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Astronomers have found a first-of-its-kind tailless comet whose composition may offer clues into long-standing questions about the solar system's formation and evolution, according to research published on Friday in the journal Science Advances.The so-called "Manx" comet, named after a breed of cats without tails, was made of rocky materials that are normally found near Earth. Most comets are made of ice and other frozen compounds and were formed in solar system's frigid far reaches.Researchers believe the newly found comet was formed in the same region as Earth, then booted to the solar system’s backyard like a gravitational slingshot as planets jostled for position.Scientists involved in the discovery now seek to learn how many more Manx comets exist, which could help to resolve debate over exactly how and when the solar system settled into its current configuration. "Depending how many we find, we will know whether the giant planets danced across the solar system when they were young, or if they grew up quietly without moving much," paper co-author Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer with the European Southern Observatory in Germany, said in a statement.The new comet, known as C/2014 S3, was discovered in 2014 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS. This network of telescopes scours the night-time skies for fast-moving comets, asteroids and other celestial bodies.Typically comets coming in from the same region as the Manx grow bright tails as they approach the sun, the result of ice vaporizing off their bodies and gleaming in reflected sunlight. But C/2014 S3 was dark and virtually tailless when it was spotted about twice as far away from the sun as Earth. Later analysis showed that instead of ices typically found on comets, the Manx comet contained materials similar to the rocky asteroids located in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. And C/2014 S3 appeared pristine, an indication that it had been in the solar system's deep freeze for a long time, said University of Hawaii astronomer Karen Meech, the lead author. The discovery of additional Manx comets could help scientists to refine computer models used to simulate the solar system's formation, Meech said. (Reporting by Irene Klotz; editing by Letitia Stein and Diane Craft)

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Facebook hit with lawsuit over plan to issue new stock

SAN FRANCISCO A Facebook Inc (FB.O) shareholder filed a proposed class action lawsuit on Friday in a bid to stop the company's plan to issue new Class C stock, calling the move an unfair deal to entrench Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg as controlling shareholder.The lawsuit, filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery, followed the social networking company's announcement on Wednesday of its plan to issue the shares.The rejiggering of Facebook's share structure is effectively a 3-for-1 stock split. Zuckerberg's said in December that he intends to put 99 percent of his Facebook shares into a new philanthropy project focusing on human potential and equality.The lawsuit contends that a Facebook board committee which approved the share deal "did not bargain hard" with Zuckerberg "to obtain anything of meaningful value" in exchange for granting Zuckerberg added control. In a statement, Facebook said the plan "is in the best interests of the company and all stockholders." The company has said keeping Zuckerberg at the helm is key to its future success.Facebook plans to create a new class of shares that are publicly listed but do not have voting rights. Facebook will issue two of the so-called "Class C" shares for each outstanding Class A and Class B share held by shareholders. Those new Class C shares will be publicly traded under a new symbol. Zuckerberg "wishes to retain this power, while selling off large amounts of his stockholdings, and reaping billions of dollars in proceeds," the lawsuit said."The issuance of the Class C stock will, in effect, have the same effect as a grant to Zuckerberg of billions of dollars in equity, for which he will pay nothing," it said. Google settled a lawsuit in 2013 shortly before trial which cleared the way for that company to execute a similar plan. (Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Bernard Orr and Tom Brown)

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Amazon profit crushes estimates as cloud-service revenue soars

Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) on Thursday reported profit and revenue that blew past analysts' expectations, sending its shares soaring in after-hours trading and demonstrating the growing market power of its core retail business and new cloud services division.The results draw a sharp contrast to the disappointing fourth quarter Amazon reported in January, which renewed worries among some shareholders about the company's comparatively thin profit margins. Shares of the world's biggest online retailer jumped nearly 13 percent to $679 in extended trading on Thursday.Amazon's performance also assuaged concerns about a broader slowdown among tech and internet companies after Apple (AAPL.O), Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Intel (INTC.O) all reported disappointing earnings."It did restore my faith," said Dan Conde, an analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, who keeps a close eye on Amazon's cloud business. The company also offered a bright outlook, with revenue guidance for the current quarter of $28 billion to $30.5 billion, compared to the $28.33 billion analysts had expected.While Amazon displayed impressive growth for a company its size - revenues last quarter rose 28.2 percent to $29.13 billion, the biggest revenue growth since 2012 - its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing division was the highlight. Revenues at the division climbed 64 percent to $2.56 billion while operating income more than tripled to $604 million.Even though operating margins fell at the unit compared to last quarter, as Amazon spends heavily to compete with rivals like Microsoft and Google (GOOGL.O), they remain a healthy 27.9 percent. That compares to 28.5 percent last quarter, and 16.9 percent a year earlier. AWS, launched 10 years ago, delivered more profit in the quarter than Amazon's retail business. Research firms say AWS has more than 30 percent of the fast-growing cloud-computing market and it remains far ahead of rivals including Microsoft and Google.Amazon said it also has seen strong growth in subscribers to its Prime loyalty program, which offers one-hour delivery, original TV programming and access to its digital entertainment products such as Prime Music and Prime Video for an annual fee of $99. The company said it would ramp up spending to entice Prime customers through video content, particularly its "Prime Originals" - shows Amazon develops itself. That strategy builds on the success of programs including "Mozart in the Jungle" and "Transparent," which each have won Golden Globe awards."We feel that program is working," Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said in a conference call with analysts. "We're going to significantly increase our spend in that area." The company recently launched a monthly subscription to the program for $10.99. Amazon has also said it plans to offer its video streaming service as a standalone service for a monthly fee of $8.99. Amazon does not break out the numbers of Prime subscribers, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners says the program has 54 million U.S. members. Amazon's growth on the revenue side suggests that the relationship model around Amazon Prime is working, said Frank Gillett, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.Amazon on Thursday also said it would continue to build its logistics operations, where it has started using its own trucks and planes to supplement carriers such as UPS and Fedex and offer-same day service. "They're still great partners, have been, and will continue to be for the future," Olsavsky said in response to an analyst who asked if Amazon would ever entertain delivering items for those companies. "But we see opportunities where we need to add additional capacity and we're filling those voids." Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also touted the success of new hardware products. "Amazon devices are the top selling products on Amazon," he said in a press release, citing the Echo voice-response system and the Fire TV Stick.The Echo has been a surprise hit and Bezos said in the statement that the company could not keep it in stock, but he declined to provide sales figures.Amazon's net sales in North America, its biggest market by revenue, increased 26.8 percent to $17 billion in the first quarter.Amazon reported net income of $513 million, or $1.07 per share, for the quarter ended March 31, marking a fourth straight quarter of profits for the once perennially money-losing company. A year earlier, Amazon reported a loss of $57 million, or 12 cents per share.Analysts on average had expected a profit of 58 cents per share and revenue of $27.98 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. (Reporting by Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru and Sarah McBride in San Francisco; Editing by Kirti Pandey, Jonathan Weber and Bernard Orr)

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Russia launches first rocket from new spaceport at second attempt

MOSCOW Russia launched its first rocket from a new cosmodrome on Thursday, a day after a technical glitch forced a postponement of the event in a sign of continuing crisis in the nation's space industry.An unmanned Soyuz-2.1A rocket, carrying three satellites, roared into a clear blue sky from the launchpad at Vostochny cosmodrome in the remote Amur Region near China's border at 0501 Moscow time (0201 GMT), state television showed.The satellites separated from the rocket's third stage about nine minutes into the flight and headed for their designated orbits, Russian news agencies quoted officials from the space agency Roscosmos as saying.The launch was called off less than two minutes before lift-off on Wednesday, upsetting President Vladimir Putin. He had flown thousands of kilometers to watch what Russian media and officials called a historic event."I want to congratulate you. There is something to be proud of," Putin told cosmodrome workers and Roscosmos officials after watching Thursday's launch at Vostochny, Russian media reported."The equipment overreached itself a little bit yesterday," he said. "In principle, we could have held the launch yesterday, but the equipment overdid its job and stopped the launch. This is a normal thing." His remarks contrasted with his tough words after Wednesday's aborted launch, when he criticized Roscosmos and government officials for the large number of technical problems in the space industry, saying that "there should be an appropriate reaction".Putin reprimanded Roscosmos head Igor Komarov and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of space and military industries, Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. CORRUPTION AND GLITCHES Delays and corruption have blighted work on the new cosmodrome. A European Space Agency launch in French Guiana, using a similar Russian Soyuz rocket, was also delayed by technical problems this month.Problems with Russian space rockets are worrisome not just for the Kremlin but also for the U.S. space program. NASA has depended on Russia to fly its astronauts to the International Space Station since it retired its space shuttle. The Soviet Union pioneered manned space flight when it fired Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's space program has had to retrench for lack of cash. For years it filled gaps in its budget by taking paying tourists into space.The Vostochny spaceport, the first civilian rocket launch site on Russian territory, is intended to phase out Russia's reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome, which it leases from ex-Soviet Kazakhstan."The main thing is that this launch pad is now working, it has been prepared well by you and it is functioning," Putin told cosmodrome workers on Thursday. "We are now facing a second stage here, to accommodate a heavy rocket.""We have a lot of work in front of us, and it's daunting. But beyond all doubt, this is ... a very serious step forward in the development of Russia's space exploration." (Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Glitch postpones first space flight from Russia's new launch-pad

MOSCOW A technical fault forced Russia's space agency on Wednesday to postpone at the last minute the inaugural launch of a rocket into space from its new Vostochny launch-pad, Russian media reported.An unmanned Soyuz rocket carrying three satellites had been scheduled to fire off into orbit from the Vostochny site, which was built to end Russia's reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome in neighboring Kazakhstan. Moments before the scheduled launch time, officials at the launch-site, in Russia's far eastern Amur region, announced a postponement until Thursday morning, citing technical problems, Interfax news agency reported. (Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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